Nichole Marie Ely of Inman was named national winner of the Sheep Production - Entrepreneurship/Placement Proficiency award at the National Future Farmers of America (FFA) Convention in Indianapolis Ind.
She was one of only four people chosen to compete for the award.
When Ely was given two bred ewes as Christmas presents 11 years ago, she had no idea it would turn into a successful entrepreneurial operation.
"It kind of just evolved," Ely said. "Where I lived and with the number of acres we had, sheep just made the most sense. We didn't have the land for cows. I eventually had to rent pasture also."
The Inman FFA member owns a total of 60 sheep. She attributes the success of her operation to keeping accurate records, implementing good nutrition and strong communication skills.
"I didn't just learn about proper nutrition and vaccinations and things," she said. "I learned about time management in high school and that helped me with the business and I also learned how to network."
She markets the majority of her lambs to FFA and 4-H members to utilize as fair projects. She also sells directly to meat lockers, giving her the opportunity to promote the sheep industry through meat sales.
Ely is a sophomore at K-State where she plans to pursue a degree in agricultural communications. She is the daughter of Paula and Lowell Ely, who also acts as her FFA advisor.
"I could have never made it this far without the help of my parents and my dad, who is my advisor," she said. "We have a unique relationship that other people don't have. I also learned a lot from club members and 4-H members."
One goal that Ely dreamed about on her road to success, was to show a Grand Champion Market Lamb at the county fair.  She wanted to show one of her own and win. She achieved that goal three years ago.
Now, her two younger siblings are involved in showing and they help her out while she is at school.
The proficiency awards recognize outstanding student achievement in agribusiness gained through establishment of a new business, working for an existing company or otherwise gaining hands-on career experience. The Sheep Production Entrepreneurship/Placement Award is one of 47 proficiency program areas FFA members can participate in to develop valuable experience and leadership skills at the local, state and national levels.
In recognition, each of the four finalists received a plaque and $500. Ely received an additional $500 as the winner.
The National FFA Organization, formerly known as the Future Farmers of America, is a national youth organization of 507,763 student members - all preparing for leadership and careers in the science, business and technology of agriculture.
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